A founding member of the iconic Memphis Group, Shire is acclaimed for his playful approach to the language of design inverts accepted orthodoxies—punning, as it were, on the expected. By miss-matching high and low, he has created a boisterous, title-case vernacular that pulls from American five-and-dime kitsch, European and Post-war Modernism, and the refined techniques of hand-crafted artisanship. Shire’s oeuvre, like each object in Funnel of Love, is much more than the sum of its parts.
The “funnels of love” in question are teapots, one of the most loaded vessels in history. Enduring symbols of hospitality and generosity, they have served as stand-ins for the human form—the breast, the phallus. They are also one of the most difficult ceramic objects to make. Shire’s—exuberant unions of disparate forms—are entirely functional, playfully pushing applied design to the aesthetic brink. Elsewhere in the gallery, a selection of chairs respond to a vintage Ettore Sottsass design that had handles on the edges of the seat back. Shire’s, with tassels and opalescent gradient paint, riff on Sottsass’s spirit of utility.
The show also includes a selection of Shire’s iconic cups—both his pinch pots, and those that feature large triangular handles shot through with circular finger holes. The fingerprinted and elemental shapes of these objects are complemented with glazes that refer to post war paintings: the freewheeling splatters and drips of Sam Francis and Jackson Pollock, as well as minimalist grids and stripes. Displayed on a shelving unit which references Japanese sushi restaurants, these objects playfully skewer the economics of the art and design worlds—systems of demand and scarcity in part based on snobbery. Shire’s work has always been about democratic accessibility.
With Art History from Bauhaus to the Renaissance at play, the work also vibes off the aesthetics of consumerist populism. Call it what you will: kitsch, camp, or simply bad taste: Shire rejoices in that which finer temperaments malign as too much or not enough. There is beauty in the overflow, his work suggests, power in the bargain bin. Shire’s work responds to Baby Boomer America much like how the Impressionists responded to the newly formed Middle Class, which had begun to coalesce in the years after the Industrial Revolution. It humanizes the systems of production, foregrounds experience and pleasure in the face of industry. It teaches us how to live well.
Funnel of Love comes during a resurgence of interest in the iconoclastic Memphis Group. But perhaps resurgence isn’t the right word. It’s more that the world is finally catching up.
About Peter Shire
Peter Shire is an LA-based artist whose work eludes all attempts at categorization. He has created ceramics, furniture, toys, interior designs, and public sculptures, that seem to at once reference and parody influences such as Bauhaus, Futurism, Art Nouveau and Art Deco. This subversive humor and playfulness extend throughout his work and made him a natural fit for
the controversial and iconic Milan-based Memphis design group, of which he was a founding member.
A graduate of the famous Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, Peter Shire has an impressive exhibition record. In addition to many group shows, his works have been exhibited in numerous solo shows, in his hometown, Los Angeles, nationally and internationally in Milan, Paris, Tokyo and Sapporo. Shire’s works are in many public collections and museums in the U.S. and abroad.